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By Alice M. Batzel

It's been my experience that whenever young boys are in the equation of life, mischievous antics and hijinks of childhood are inevitable. Whether they are sons, brothers, cousins, or friends, there will be drama, and the element of danger will be lurking about because of it. I'm a witness, an unwilling participant or at least a silent objector, and can provide testimony/tattle if I have to. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to be a survivor in spite of it. No doubt, the hijinks of childhood have spawned many of the daredevils of today. But to be honest, it all starts at home. That's right. It starts at home and my family didn't escape this.

Youth recreational activities for kids of the 1950's and 1960's shows that roller skating predated the skateboard, go-kart racing, motorcycles, and drag race cars. The local roller skating rink served as the proving ground for death defying stunts of young kids of my generation. You might create the stunts on your driveway or sidewalk in front of your home with your bicycle in a test pattern, but it was your metal skates strapped, taped, or tied to your feet with a rope that indeed put the plans to the test. You would eventually need to go to the local skating rink to perfect the ultimate feat. I admit there was no actual harm or injury ever expected, but the potential was always lurking about when roller skates were involved.

My older brother, Lloyd had a very creative mischievous streak in his character, and it often included recruiting neighborhood friends, our vacationing cousins, or my little sister, Kathy, and me to carry out his plans. On one such occasion, I vividly remember our parents taking the three oldest elementary-school-aged children in our family to the community roller skating rink for lessons on a Saturday morning. After all, our parents met at a roller skating rink in their younger years, so I guess it was a natural progression for them to take us there, and consider it to be a "safe zone." Our parents registered us for lessons and said they would be back to collect us afterward. I had no problem with that until we were given the final portion of the instruction time as free time. I thought it would be a chance to practice what we had learned that morning, but Lloyd saw it differently, and within mere seconds he had recruited every kid in the class to make his Saturday morning one he would brag about forever after that, and one that still gives me nightmares.

I don't know why, but in those younger years, I trusted Lloyd. I should have known better. On this day, however, I sensed caution, but not until I saw my life flash before me, albeit only a very short life up to that point. There were about twenty kids in that roller skating class, and Lloyd quickly convinced them that it was going to be great fun, exciting, and awesome if we did what he said, because he had a big plan. He told us to lie down on the highly polished wooden floor of the old skating rink and line up like tightly packed sardines in a can, and we did as he said. Lloyd then skated along the lineup of kids and inspected to make sure we were aligned straight, packed tightly, and then gave strict instructions that no one was to move until he said we could. We followed his instructions, but the information provided by him was only sufficient for our compliance, and not a full disclosure of what was about to occur. I often did what my brother told me to do, but I was a bit surprised that all those kids were so easily convinced and even eager to follow. I guess it was Lloyd's excitement and bossy take-charge personality that produced such a large willing group of kids that day.

Kathy and I held the last two positions at the far end of the lineup, and I believe that was the convincing point for everyone else. If his own two little sisters were at the far end of the lineup, then anyone else would be a sissy if they backed out. I didn't see anyone volunteer to be a sissy. Lloyd positioned himself at the far opposite end of the skating rink and shouted for everyone to freeze and not move a muscle, and then he began skating like a mad demon toward the lineup of kids outstretched on the floor. I don't know what speed level he achieved that day, but I suspect it could have broken a record for that skating rink. But what probably broke all records for the designated free time was when the screaming began as kids saw Lloyd coming straight at them. Would he run right over everyone and use them as a private road? I doubt we'll ever know what scary thoughts entered those little minds as the screams began and continued as he sped toward the lineup. It was then that the adult instructors came to investigate the screaming, but it was too late. Lloyd had already reached warp speed when he reached the first kid on the lineup and launched himself upward and forward like an atomic rocket. He sailed over the kids with screams sequentially sounding beneath him until he reached the end of the lineup where Kathy and I had been strategically positioned, with me at the very last spot. We didn't dare scream. We knew from prior experiences that screamers and criers were sissies, according to Lloyd, and we didn't want him to call us that. We remained perfectly still and silent as we saw him descend downward toward us.

That's when I saw my short-lived childhood flash before me. I was the last person in the lineup, and I thought this could be the end for me. But true to the luck of his many childhood shenanigans, Lloyd landed with his roller skate wheels within a hair's width of my arm as a whoosh of air from the impact blew against me. Kathy was in a wide-eyed trance at the moment of his landing, and all the other kids made a transition from screaming to applauding and cheering him to do it again. As the kids gathered around and congratulated Lloyd on his achievement, the skating instructors called an end to the free time. Kathy and I got up from the wooden floor but didn't join the jubilant congratulations. While I was a bit shaken from the experience, Kathy seemed to be unaffected, probably because even at a very young age she was always the more compliant of us concerning Lloyd. I recall being grateful that I survived roller skating lessons that day and I was surprised and disappointed that Lloyd wasn't given any reprimand from the instructors. Parents began to arrive and collect their children, and many of the boys inquired if we would be coming to lessons the following week. No doubt they were anticipating another daredevil stunt by Lloyd during the free time.

That was the last time we had roller skating lessons. I don't recall if it was because I tattled on my brother, which I probably did, or if my parents decided the expense wasn't in the budget, but it was the last day at the roller skating rink for us. Lloyd had ended that chapter of our childhood with an impressive, memorable, successful personal victory as he often did during our growing up years. Over the following weeks, he continued to ask our parents if we could return to the roller skating rink, but my sister and I didn't. She didn't seem to have an opinion about it one way or the other. I, however, never wanted to go roller skating again after that. I wanted to live; surviving that childhood hijinks convinced me that returning to the roller skating rink would put that in jeopardy.

(copyright 2017 - Alice M. Batzel - All rights reserved.)

(Photo credit: From the Facebook page of Moms Of Boys.)

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